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Survarium's alpha war: Vostok on factions, PvP & more

Survarium is the post-apocalyptic sandbox shooter from Vostok Games. VG247's Dave Cook speaks with the ex-S.T.A.L.K.E.R team about its PvP-focused alpha, faction battles, anomalies and more.

It's somewhat ironic that S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl tasked players with surviving a world riddled with decay and death, where hidden threats and unexplained anomalies lay hidden around every turn.

In 2011 the team at GSC Game World found themselves fighting their own battle for survival, as the company ceased all game production and cast its employees out into the streets. These talented individuals suddenly found themselves staring into the unknown, unsure of their future as game developers.

With the rights to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 wrenched firmly from their hands, the team persevered and founded Vostok Games. It's first project is Survarium, a game that exists as a spiritual successor to the series in all but name.

The game is set in a sandbox world where nature has undergone a significant growth spurt, ravaging the human world and forcing survivors to adapt to the laws of the jungle. It's a place where the remnants of humankind have been split into various warring factions, and much like Dean Hall's DayZ, survival is dependant on being both smart and disciplined.

I spoke with Vostok Games’ PR & marketing director Oleg Yavorsky about the demise of GSC Game World, its concept for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 and the creation of Survarium last year, and if you missed my article you should really check it out, just to get the incredible story behind the trials he and his team have been through.

It's now seven months later, and both Yavorsky and the rest of Vostok's team have found sure-footing once more. The Survarium alpha is happening now, and all of the game's disparate parts are coming together as a coherent whole.

The focus of this testing phase is PvP, so I caught up with Yavorsky to get more insight into how the game's competitive combat will work, and to find out just how far the project has come since we last spoke. Needless to say, the tone of our discussion was much happier.

"Our primary interest is in checking very basic game elements," he told me, "[such as] server stability under various loads, basic gameplay mechanics, balancing - making sure the ideas we have for the PvP mode work well and are fun to play - going through crash reports and fixing bugs related to the game’s code, graphics, level design and so on.

"Currently in the Alpha, we have the first implementation of the PvP mode, featuring team-combat, 5 v 5 - 10 v 10 is planned - two in-game factions and two playable maps. More content will become available soon, for example; new game maps, redesigned user-interface, anomalies, artifact functionality and more."

Yavorsky added that Vostok's timetable of alpha testing events can be found here, and it's clear at a glance that the team wants Survarium to be a balanced competitive experience. There's much work to be done, but the basic form of PvP encounters is already set in stone, with both the Black Market and Scavenger factions ready and playable in the current build.

"Our current vision is that in PvP we’ll see two teams fighting on a map in a time-limited game session," Yavorsky continued. "The game is going to be session-based; therefore no open-world mechanics are planned at the moment. The goal of each team is to locate ten key items, placed randomly around the location and bring them safely to their base.

"The first team to accomplish it will naturally be the winners. The peculiarity here is that you are able to steal those key items from your enemy’s base, so the more you collect, the more you need to be watchful of them. In addition to mere fragging and item hunting you will encounter anomalies, artifacts, storm effects, all of which will have a great impact on the gameplay.

"In-between missions you can improve your character’s statistics, equip new items, weapons and generally get yourself better prepared for further challenges. Ultimately, the one who can adapt to the new world conditions stands a better chance of Survival."

The prospect of gruelling survival, not only against other human enemies, but against elements and anomalies is intriguing. It comes at a time where dynamic events such as that skyscraper in Battlefield 4 collapsing, or the persistent online occurrences promised in Destiny and Titanfall are par for the next-gen course.

If anything, these threats should serve to break up the tried formula of team-based multiplayer, and add a new layer of tactics and urgency into the mix. Just picture a tied game as the game clock nears its end, where both factions are fighting over the last objective just as a mighty electrical storm rolls over the map. Exciting, isn't it?

"Each of the in-game factions can provide the player with unique sets of items," Yavorsky explained. "Weapons and gimmicks. The Black Market can supply items such as traps, used to trap or injure other players in-game.

"Scavengers can offer items such as light armour and artifact-hunting gear. The complete set of items available from each faction can be accessed once the player has built up very positive relations with the faction by successfully completing tasks and missions on their behalf."

"No one faction has the 'winning recipe, "Yavorsky added of Survarim's balancing. "Each faction has its pros and cons. We would like the player to experiment with the equipment and gear provided. You can mix and match items and place them on your character freely.

"The game is not skin-dependant, so one can develop their character into whichever direction they choose; be it physical training, shooting skills, artifact hunter and so on. In this way we feel the players will be able to build a unique character and find their own way of doing things. Ultimately, we want the player’s real-life skill to matter more than their virtual ones."

Although Vostok is laser-focused on honing Survarium's PvP play, the team will eventually move to co-op and free play test phases when the time is right. Yavorsky explained that co-op play will exist within a story-based mode, complete with challenges for up to five players at a time, while free play leans towards a traditional PvE setting.

In free-play mode, Vostok currently wants players to be thrown into the sandbox world with one life, limited equipment and to task them with surviving as long as possible. With disease and hunger always hanging over players as a constant threat, it's going to be a gruelling experience, but there are perks and other skills waiting for players as a reward.

"Perks will be part of the character levelling-up process," Yavorsky continued. "Once the player reaches a certain level of a passive skill - such as shooting - they will be offered to choose one of the active skills called Perks which may save your life in battle, provided you use it at the right time. For example, holding your breath for a longer period of time would allow you to fire a sniper rifle more accurately; or the perk allowing you to quickly restore stamina in a situation where you can no longer sprint."

Like all free-to-play titles, Vostok has to think about monetisation, and along with Perks, players will be able to pay for various boosters to speed up their progression or gain extra cosmetic items. Yavorsky stated that XP boosters, visually unique items and enhanced game stats are just three of the team's potential paid options. It does not - under any circumstance - want a 'pay to win' model.

Survarium is already sounding like an interesting concept. Vostok's pedigree as 'the team that brought you S.T.A.L.K.E.R.' notwithstanding, the studio seems to be breaking free from its past and creating a survival experience they feel comes natural to them.

If the neat ideas already being conceived at the company can bear fruit and capture a broad audience, the 2014 launch of Survarium could help Vostok's members move on from the memories of their troubled past.

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